Obama’s Afghanistan Strategy is Indecisive, Says Vice Chair of Senate Intel Committee

By Josiah Ryan | April 3, 2009 | 7:01 PM EDT

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama is demonstrating indecisiveness in his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, said Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.), vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in a speech at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on Friday.

Furthermore, Bond said he thinks the White House is split on whether they will choose to pursue a counter-terrorism strategy in Afghanistan, which Bond said would be less likely to succeed, or a counter-insurgency strategy, which he said could result in victory.

“I am cautiously optimistic about President Obama’s newly unveiled approach to this challenge,” said Bond. “The reason my optimism is guarded is because the president has split the baby between two competing camps in Washington, and I believe, in the White House today the first camp focusing strictly on counter-terrorism and the second on a  counter-insurgency strategy approach.”

Bond explained that the president’s indecisiveness is demonstrated by the number of troops he has approved so far for the war in Afghanistan.

“The [number of] troops he has requested fits neither camp,” said Bond. “He will have to make a choice.”

A counter-terrorism approach, which coalition forces pursued in Iraq from 2003 to the beginning of 2007 focused on using the might of American arms to destroy bastions of terrorism in that country.

“The first strategy was a scorched earth strategy that did not distinguish between Iraq Sunnis who had grievances against the Shia and Kurdish-dominated government and the foreign fighters who became al Qaeda in Iraq,” Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy at the libertarian Cato Institute, told CNSNews.com on Friday.

The counter-insurgency approach, which was employed by coalition forces in Iraq from the summer of 2007 onward, focused on outreach to Iraqis in combination with the use of military might.

That second approach focused on “working with people and focusing on neutralizing al Qaeda in Iraq,” said Carpenter.

In February, Obama approved the addition of 17,000 troops. "This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," Obama said in a 
statement when the increase was announced on Feb. 18.

Carpenter said that while he agrees that, so far, Obama has not completely formulated a strategy for Afghanistan, he has already put more work into determining the strategy than the preceding Bush administration had. The Obama administration will likely formulate their strategy within the next month and a half, said Carpenter.

Bond said the decision on which strategy coalition forces should pursue should be based on the U.S. success in the Iraq war since 2007 when relative stability was obtained through counter-insurgency activities.

“For three years in Iraq we saw the failure of counter-terrorism,” said Bond. “It wasn’t until General Petraeus changed course and utilized a counter-insurgency approach that we began to see progress in Iraq. This turn around in Iraq is one of the reasons I believe the only way to address the long-term threat of terrorism in the region is by taking a smart power counter-insurgency approach.”

“We now know that military might alone cannot succeed,” said Bond.

But for such a strategy to succeed a substantial troop escalation may be needed, said Bond.

“Counter-insurgency is going to require more people,” said Bond. “It’s going to require the right kind of people. If we don’t do it, then we face a slide back to where we were prior to 9/11.”

Bond, however, said that at this time it is not possible to determine what that escalation will look like in terms of numbers.

“We will have to wait and see,” he told CNSNews.com when asked if Obama should pursue a surge in Afghanistan like Bush did in Iraq.

“We can’t make the decisions in the splendid isolation of the United States Congress,” he said. “We need to develop a counter-insurgency strategy and have commanders on the ground and developmental experts tell us what kind of strength they need and how many.”

Bond spoke about President Obama's recently released Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy, and how the United States should approach this troubled region, as a part of the USIP’s Congressional Newsmaker Series.

The USIP is a bi-partisan think-tank funded by the State Department with the congressional mandate “to support the development, transmission, and use of knowledge to promote peace and curb violent international conflict.”

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